The Secretive Prisons That Keep Migrants Out of Europe

The prison is controlled by a militia that euphemistically calls itself the Public Security Agency, and its gunmen patrolled the hallways. About fifteen hundred migrants were held there, in eight cells, segregated by gender. There was only one toilet for every hundred people, and Candé often had to urinate in a water bottle or defecate in the shower.

Migrants slept on thin floor pads; there weren’t enough to go around, so people took turns — one lay down during the day, the other at night. Detainees fought over who got to sleep in the shower, which had better ventilation. Twice a day, they were marched, single file, into the courtyard, where they were forbidden to look up at the sky or talk. Guards, like zookeepers, put communal bowls of food on the ground, and migrants gathered in circles to eat.

In the past six years, the European Union, weary of the financial and political costs of receiving migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, has created a shadow immigration system that stops them before they reach Europe. It has equipped and trained the Libyan Coast Guard, a quasi-military organization linked to militias in the country, to patrol the Mediterranean, sabotaging humanitarian rescue operations and capturing migrants.

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